Before he was one of the faces of late night television, Jimmy Kimmel held a variety of jobs including hosting a radio show, being the comic relief on the game show Win Ben Stein’s Money, co-hosting Comedy Central’s The Man Show with Adam Carolla.
It was during that latter run that Kimmel in which the comedian pretended to be NBA Hall of Famer Karl Malone, complete with not just blackface, but with his entire body painted a darker skin tone. He also performed a skit in blackface portraying a parody of Oprah Winfrey.
On Tuesday, Kimmel issued an apology for that and other moments in his career where he hurt or offended people.
“I have long been reluctant to address this, as I knew doing so would be celebrated as a victory by those who equate apologies with weakness and cheer for leaders who use prejudice to divide us,” wrote Kimmel. “That delay was a mistake. There is nothing more important to me than your respect, and I apologize to those who were genuinely hurt or offended by the makeup I wore or the words I spoke.
“On KROQ radio in the mid-90s, I did a recurring impression of the NBA player Karl Malone. In the late 90s, I continued impersonating Malone on TV. We hired makeup artists to make me look as much like Karl Malone as possible. I never considered that this might be seen as anything other than an imitation of a fellow human being, one that had no more to do with Karl’s skin color than it did his bulging muscles and bald head. I’ve done dozens of impressions of famous people, including Snoop Dogg, Oprah, Eminem, Dick Vitale, Rosie, and many others. In each case, I thought of them as impersonations of celebrities and nothing more. Looking back, many of these sketches are embarrassing, and it is frustrating that these thoughtless moments have become a weapon used by some to diminish my criticisms of social and other injustices.
“I believe that I have evolved and matured over the last twenty-plus years, and I hope that is evident to anyone who watches my show. I know that this will not be the last I hear of this and that it will be used again to try to quiet me. I love this country too much to allow that. I won’t be bullied into silence by those who feign outrage to advance their oppressive and genuinely racist agendas.”
Kimmel, who is taking the summer off to spend more time with his family, stated his vacation was planned well in advance.
“My summer vacation has been planned for more than a year and includes the next two summers off as well,” he wrote. “I will be back to work in September. Thank you for giving me an opportunity to explain and to those I’ve disappointed, I am sorry.”
In 2018, Malone and Kimmel did a sketch together on his late night show where Kimmel shared his impression of the Jazz legend, without the blackface.
Adam Carolla, Kimmel’s co-host on The Man Show from 1999 to 2003 weighed in on the subject on his podcast on Tuesday.
“I was saying this years ago and I meant it,” said Carolla. “Blackface is something, doing Karl Malone is doing something else, or doing Oprah is something else, or Mr. T or Jimmy Fallon doing Chris Rock. That is not blackface!”
“Jimmy Kimmel is in my top three of all time of decent people I’ve ever met in my life,” Carolla added. “Like, he is the most decent person you’ve ever met, he’s the most generous person you’ve ever met. I’ve always told you guys this. He’s amongst the best people I’ve ever met and if everyone was like Jimmy Kimmel we’d be living in a f***ing utopia.”